Sugar reduction: How low can you go?

by Donna Berry
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New sweetening technologies are expanding the options available to product developers.

Research indicates consumers believe that for improved health and well-being they should reduce their sugar intake. With taste the No. 1 purchase and re-purchase driver of all foods and beverages, just how low may a beverage manufacturer go before the consumer is no longer a customer?

Adults and children should reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake, according to the World Health Organization. In new guidelines issued in March 2015, the W.H.O. recommended a reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

Free sugars refer to such monosaccharides as glucose and fructose, and disaccharides, such as sucrose (table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. It also includes sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates, but not those inherent to fresh fruits and vegetables or milk.

Recommendations are one thing. Putting them into action is another. After all, a single can of sugar-sweetened soda may contain up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars. That’s already more than the W.H.O.’s new 5% recommendation.

Consumers could choose sugar-free beverages, because they are just that, free of sugar. The problem for many consumers is taste, especially of sugar-free beverages made only with high-intensity sweeteners. They also may choose unsweetened or slightly sweetened beverages.

“Sweet is more of a habit than a preference,” said Seth Goldman, co-founder and chief executive officer of Honest Tea, Bethesda, Md., a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta. Honest Tea specializes in offering beverages that range from unsweetened and zero grams of sugar to those that are “just a tad sweet” using a variety of organic sweeteners.

“With our new Unsweetened Herbal Teas we worked a long time to create full-flavor tea taste without using any sweetener,” Mr. Goldman said. “For these beverages we source herbs, spices and other flavorful ingredients that don’t get muted after the brewed beverage is cooled and packaged, because what works in a hot tea does not necessarily perform once chilled.”

Brew time impacts taste as does water source.

“When we first started in 1998, we used spring water with a naturally low pH to reduce the bitterness in our brewed tea,” he said. “Today we achieve that low pH using a highly efficient water filtration process.”

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